States exploring innovative medical liability reforms

At a time when getting lawmakers to take up traditional medical liability reforms has become increasingly challenging, states are beginning to turn to innovative options for reform.

“Medical liability reforms could either complement traditional reform provisions, such as caps, or they may be able to improve the liability climate in a state that is not able to enact traditional reform provisions for political or judicial reasons,” AMA Board of Trustees Member Stephen Permut, MD, said at a recent presentation to the Connecticut State Medical Society. 

Thirty states have passed legislation to cap non-economic damages in medical liability cases, but setting limits in other states and at the federal level has been challenging. That’s why the AMA has made medical liability reform a top priority, both in supporting legislation based on the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) of 1975, and in exploring innovative reform methods, Dr. Permut said.

The AMA has called for federal funding for pilot projects to test such concepts as:

•  Health courts (AMA login required)

•  Liability safe harbors (AMA login required) for the practice of evidence-based medicine

•  Early disclosure and compensation models

•  Expert witness guidelines (AMA login required)

•  Affidavits of merit (AMA login required)

The AMA also is urging Congress to pass MICRA-based reforms, including a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages. At the state level, the AMA is collaborating with state medical associations both to pursue traditional reforms and help states investigate and implement alternative reforms. 

Physicians spend nearly 11 percent of their estimated 40-year careers—more than 50 months—with an open, unresolved medical liability claim, according to a 2012 Health Affairs study. On average, a medical liability lawsuit takes about 20 months to be resolved from the time of filing.

“The AMA will continue to lead advocacy efforts to reduce medical liability premiums and to fix the broken medical liability system for both patients and physicians,” Dr. Permut said.